Photo by Emma Tranter

Erasing stigma of suicide

When her son, Stephen, committed suicide in 2005, Margaret Hajdinjak says she knew she had to speak out.

Hajdinjak founded the Out of the Darkness Memorial Walk in 2010 to celebrate the lives of loved ones lost to suicide, and to raise awareness of suicide and depression.

Hajdinjak spoke of her experiences at a media conference Monday.

“We have to let people know what happened. How could we not say what happened?” she said.

In 2006, Hajdinjak and a group of her son’s friends formed a dragon boat team in memory of Stephen.

“We called our team ‘One in a Million’ after Stephen. We thought he was one in a million. We toasted him and they told jokes and they remembered him. So this is our tenth year this year that we’re going to be doing it,” she said.

Hajdinjak said the dragon boat team made her realize she wanted to bring people together as a community to support those who had lost loved ones to suicide.

“I thought, ‘Wow, I’m letting his friends come and celebrate Stephen’s life but every day I read in the paper that someone else had died unexpectedly at home or tragically at home.’ They were in their early twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, and I realized that that was still happening,” she said.

Kristina Belanger, a member of the marketing committee for Out of the Darkness, said the committee has been successful in reaching out to participants.

“We’ll at least meet last year’s number, if not exceed it. Last year we had about 300 people come out.” Belanger said.

Belanger said she and the organizers of Out of the Darkness hope to erase the stigma surrounding suicide and depression.

“It’s not talked about a lot, so it’s nice to see that so many people are willing to acknowledge it now,” she said. “We really would hope that the stigma gets removed, and that people aren’t ashamed to admit that that’s what happened to their loved one.”

Belanger and Hajdinjak agreed the walk is a way of bringing the community together.

“Doing this walk allows people the opportunity to come out and to be able to walk with someone who really knows how you feel,” Hajdinjak said.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among young adults age 15–24 and over one million people of all ages die by suicide globally each year, according to the event’s media release.

Hajdinjak said a memorial wall containing photos and paper butterflies will also be present at the walk. Participants can place a photo of a lost loved one or a butterfly on the wall.

“I find the wall is growing, which is really sad but also really great because people are feeling comfortable being able to put up that picture or to put up that butterfly with someone’s name on it.”

The fifth annual Out of the Darkness Memorial Walk takes place Sunday, May 3 at Confederation College with registration beginning at 5 p.m. in the Shuniah Building. Opening ceremonies begin at 6 p.m. and the walk begins at 6:30 p.m. No pre-registration is required. The event is free and open to the public.


Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal on April 28, 2015.

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